How Far and How Fast will Elon Musk, Lyndon Rive, and Tim Cook Go to Change the World?

While SolarCity hosted Inside Energy 2014 in NYC today, I spoke with my friend Seth Weintraub, founder of blogs 9to5MAC, 9to5Google, and Electrek, about how far and how fast the CEOs of Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and Apple are willing to go to change the world. We found some interesting ways business CAN and CAN’T be a powerful force for social and environmental change.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors CAN sell an electric car directly to the consumer that requires almost no maintenance and gets software updates, like a Mac, while pushing a green agenda as the overriding mission of the company. Why CAN’T he open Tesla’s charging stations to electric cars made by other companies, like Nissan and Toyota?

Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity CAN invest in solar panels for businesses and residences, while planning to build the biggest solar plant in the world in New York state. Why CAN’T he partner with New York to replace the state’s largest nuclear power plant (Indian Point), which produces 25% of NYC’s energy, with solar panels along the bank of the Hudson River?

Tim Cook CAN tell conservative investors to go sell their Apple stock if they don’t support environmental efforts without an immediate ROI, just like when they make devices accessible for users with disabilities. Why CAN’T he create more affordable and new kinds of products for lower income markets that don’t have huge margins?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all excited about the power of these companies to transform the auto, energy, and technology industries. But we need to challenge green-branded companies to take their commitments to social and environmental impact all the way.

In an economy still shaken by the global financial crisis of 2008, we have good reason to remain skeptical about the global ascendence of the business sector. At the heart of the matter is the skepticism of conservatives and liberals alike about the power of governments to solve anything.

All of the biggest problems in the world, like climate change, poverty, hunger, healthcare, inequality, violence and warfare, will require committed partnerships between businesses and governments like nothing we’ve seen before. Building more of these bridges would take truly innovative leadership. If we are going to give our money and our love to the businesses that dream big, let’s ask them to dream even bigger.

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